Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Psalm 82 envisions a heavenly court in which God, as judge, pronounces judgment on the gods for their failure to do justice (82:1). Verses 3 and 4 contain divine imperatives, not only for heavenly beings, but for all of God’s creatures, including us: “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.”
Notice that God is especially concerned that those who are powerless in society receive justice. These are the ones who are most easily forgotten or abused. Yet God instructs us to pay special attention to them. This reflects his own compassion and love for the poor, the orphan, and the foreigner (for example, Deut. 10:17-18; Ps. 146:7-9). When we seek justice for those who are weak and marginalized, we not only obey God, but also imitate God.
In our day, the call to do justice in imitation of God often gets lost in partisan rhetoric. To be sure, Christians will differ on the economic and political implications of the biblical vision. But all of us, no matter our political persuasions, must live out in our daily lives the basic imperatives of Psalm 82. In our work and our volunteering, in our giving and our voting, in our decision-making and our relationships, we must “give justice to the poor and the orphan” and “uphold the rights of the oppressed and destitute.”
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How does God’s call to justice impact your life? Are there particular actions you might take in response to this psalm?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, how easy it is for me to forget the imperatives of Psalm 82. It’s not that I am intentionally mistreating the poor and the oppressed. But I can forget about those who are weak, thus neglecting your call to justice. Forgive me, Lord, for my narrowness of vision and hard-heartedness.
Help me, Lord, to know how I am supposed to put Psalm 82 into practice. Show me where, in my daily life, I have the opportunity—indeed, the calling—to do justice. Give me open eyes and a tender heart for those who are weak and powerless.
Today, I also want to pray for my leaders in all levels of government. Give them wisdom, Lord, to know how best to seek justice for those who need it most. Help them look beyond partisan advantage and personal advancement in order to do what’s right.
All praise and glory be to you, God of justice and mercy! Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.
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